NFL Wildcard Weekend Over, Playoff Picture Emerges

Image by: AJ Guel Photography
By Thomas Stone

Houston Texans vs. Cincinnati Bengals

Coming into Saturday’s game against the Houston Texans, the Cincinnati Bengals were without a playoff win since 1990. It stayed that way when they exited Reliant Stadium, losing to the Texans 19-13.

Cincinnati did their best to stick with the Texans as they were only down by six points entering the fourth quarter. But the Houston’s defense gave a pretty strong defensive effort to stifle the Bengals on Saturday.

Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton could only muster 127 yards through the air, throwing one interception and missing on 16 passes. Dalton’s longest completion of the day went to receiver A.J. Green for 45 yards, but that accounted for almost half of his passing yards for the game.

He was sacked twice and never got into a rhythm. In fact, the Bengals offense never eased itself out of first gear it seems. They averaged a paltry 4.1 yards per play, and only gained 198 total yards on the day.

For Houston, this was their first movement in their crawling toward the Super Bowl. They relied heavily on Pro Bowl running back Arian Foster against the Bengals. He rushed for 140 yards and one touchdown.

He’ll need another workman-like performance next week against the Patriots if they want to keep their Super Bowl hopes alive.

The Texans will fly to New England next week for a game against a team that beat them 42-14 in Week 14.

Minnesota Vikings vs. Green Bay Packers

Saturday’s night contest featured the Vikings and the Packers, a rivalry dating back to 1961.

Just last week, Minnesota beat the Packers to muscle their way into the playoffs. Vikings running back Adrian Peterson ran for 199 yards, falling seven yards short of the all-time single season rushing record.

This week, the Packers were determined not to allow that type of performance from Peterson to happen again.

Green Bay’s defensive strategy got a little easier on Saturday when they found out that the Vikings were without starting quarterback Christian Ponder. Ponder was declared inactive before Saturday’s game due to a deep triceps bruise. The Vikings were forced to go with back-up quarterback Joe Webb.

It was a gift for the Packers. Not only did they shut Peterson down, they were able to suffocate Webb.

Webb only completed 11 passes, his longest being a 50-yard touchdown pass to receiver Michael Jenkins late in the fourth quarter. By that time, it was too late for Minnesota. They were down by 14 points after the touchdown, and not enough time remained on the clock for a comeback.

On the night, Peterson rushed for 99 yards on 22 carries, but Green Bay kept him out of the end zone, and from breaking the game open. The Packers defense did enough to stop Peterson and force the Vikings to pass with Webb.

Next week, the Packers face the San Francisco 49ers in the divisional round. That game represents a rematch as the two teams met for the first game of the season, in which the 49ers beat the Packers 30-22.

Image by: Keith Allison

Baltimore Ravens vs. Indianapolis Colts

Late Sunday afternoon, the Baltimore Ravens disposed of the upstart Indianapolis Colts 24-9 by playing brawny defense and relying on receiver Anquan Boldin. Boldin had 145 yards on just five catches, one of which went for a touchdown.

Colts quarterback (and offensive rookie of the year candidate) Andrew Luck threw 54 passes for 288 yards and one interception. Luck did what he could to keep his team in the game, but the Ravens defense wore them down, sacking him three times, and harassing him all day. 

The Ravens also chewed up 272 yards on the ground by way of running backs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce.

This was also the last home game for Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis. Last week Lewis announced that he would retire from the NFL after this season. So long Ray, thanks for your service. See you on TMZ.

For Baltimore, they move on to face the red hot Denver Broncos in the thin air of Denver’s Mile High stadium. Just three short weeks ago, the Broncos walked all over the Ravens, beating them 34-17.

They were able to pound away at the young rookie for the Colts on Sunday, but the aging Ravens defense may have a harder time dealing with veteran quarterback Peyton Manning next week. They sacked Manning twice in their last meeting, but he still did enough to put his team out to a 17-0 lead at halftime against Baltimore.

The Ravens will have to beef up their poor run defense as well. Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno banged out 115 yards against them. I’m sure Denver will look to duplicate that success again next week.

Seattle Seahawks vs. Washington Redskins

In Sunday’s late game, the Seattle Seahawks flew east to play the Washington Redskins. This game was supposed to feature two of the NFL’s hottest, young quarterbacks. The Seahawks have rookie Russell Wilson, and the Redskins have Beltway hero Robert Griffin III.

The only problem with that scenario is that RG3 has a bum knee, and it showed on the field as Washington lost to the Seahawks 24-14, even after the Redskins jumped out to an early 14-0 lead.

RG3 tossed two quick touchdowns, but the party ended there for him and the ‘Skins. He could only watch as Seattle put up 24 unanswered points, starting with a 32-yard field goal from kicker Steven Hauschka in the second quarter.

Russell Wilson led his team to victory with a pretty strong performance through the air and on the ground. He threw for 187 yards and one score, but he also rushed for 67 yards. What’s impressive about Wilson’s performance is that he was sacked by the Redskins five times and hit seven.

He continued to get up and fight. But, in the end, what did the Redskins in was their inability to stop the run, and a hurt Griffin III.

Many will question Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan’s decision to keep RG3 instead of going with back-up quarterback Kurt Cousins at halftime. Many, including RG3’s manager and agent.

Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch torched them for 132 yards on 20 carries. He scored a 27-yard touchdown midway through the fourth quarter to put the Seahawks up by seven, and for good.

With the win, Seattle will travel to Atlanta next week to take on the Falcons.